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Anterior cingulate cortex surface area relates to behavioral inhibition in adolescents with and without heavy prenatal alcohol exposure.


Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with behavioral disinhibition, yet the brain structure correlates of this deficit have not been determined with sufficient detail. We examined the hypothesis that the structure of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) relates to inhibition performance in youth with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (AE, n = 32) and non-exposed controls (CON, n = 21). Adolescents (12-17 years) underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging yielding measures of gray matter volume, surface area, and thickness across four ACC subregions. A subset of subjects were administered the NEPSY-II Inhibition subtest. MANCOVA was utilized to test for group differences in ACC and inhibition performance and multiple linear regression was used to probe ACC-inhibition relationships. ACC surface area was significantly smaller in AE, though this effect was primarily driven by reduced right caudal ACC (rcACC). AE also performed significantly worse on inhibition speed but not on inhibition accuracy. Regression analyses with the rcACC revealed a significant group × ACC interaction. A smaller rcACC surface area was associated with slower inhibition completion time for AE but was not significantly associated with inhibition in CON. After accounting for processing speed, smaller rcACC surface area was associated with worse (i.e., slower) inhibition regardless of group. Examining processing speed independently, a decrease in rcACC surface area was associated with faster processing speed for CON but not significantly associated with processing speed in AE. Results support the theory that caudal ACC may monitor reaction time in addition to inhibition and highlight the possibility of delayed ACC neurodevelopment in prenatal alcohol exposure.

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